Treenauts Spy on Canopy Communities
Blogger: Forest & Bird’s Web Manager, Mandy Herrick
We touched down on the moon in 1969. We travelled 11kms to the sea-floor in 1960. We peered into living cells and discovered DNA in 1951.
Moon-travel, deep-sea exploration, cell-research, we’ve done it all, and yet, we still know very little about the unexplored communities that live in the tops of our trees.
Although numerous botanists & entomologists have collected samples from these lofty forest communities, it was only in 1995 that scientist, Graham Dorrington, set off in a dirigible (airship) above the forests of Borneo that we really started to crack open this undiscovered world.
Still 15 years on and this tree-top world remains very much unstudied. It’s a sad fact that we know more about what happens 20 metres underwater than we do in the tops of our trees.
However, that’s all changing.
In the past month, Ark in the Park, the New Zealand Geographic Trust, DOC and Auckland University have been building upon the scant research into our tree-top communities by launching insect-o-logists, tree-o-logists and reptile-o-logists into our trees.
Over the next six months, fifteen scientists and volunteers will be propelling themselves into the trees of the Waitakere forest (our co-managed reserve Ark in the Park) to learn about everything from epiphytes (air plants) to pollinators.
They’ll be getting lift-off care of a few ropes, harnesses, belays, carabiners and under the tutelage of one of the world’s most experienced tree-climbers – Andy Barrell.
And it is hoped that they will come back with new discoveries (the long lost striped skink – fingers crossed!) as well as the wealth of information about pests, kauri dieback disease, lizards and the giant epiphyte gardens that host to these sky-high colonies.
At the end of May, I went along to their first ascent into the treetops and chatted to New Zealand Geographic Editor James Frankham, and Auckland University students Sarah Wyse and Jenny Waite about their involvement into this project.